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Last Updated on November 27, 2020

5 Practical Ways to Get Over a Mental Block

5 Practical Ways to Get Over a Mental Block
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There’s nothing quite like a state of “flow” when you’re working. The rare moments when your inspiration aligns with your motivation likely lead to some of your most creative work. Plus, it feels great to actually check a task or project off the list so you can move on to the next thing. Meanwhile, a mental block — its opposite — can cause work to feel laborious and uninspired. Forget creativity when you have a mental block — it makes it difficult even to start working on what you need to do.

A mental block can manifest in several ways. Perhaps your imposter syndrome is squelching your creative ideas, for instance, or you’re overwhelmed by the breadth of a project and its impending deadline. Maybe you’re just tired or stressed.

Either way, having a mental block feels like being trapped in your own head, and it can seriously dampen your ability to think outside the box. The problem is, you’re so locked into your own perspective that you don’t see more innovative approaches to your problems.[1]

Luckily, jumping over these mental hurdles is simpler than you think. You just need the right strategies to get your flow back.

Try these five practical ways to overcome a mental block.

1. Break Your Project Down

A few years ago, I was working on changing a company product that I believed would hugely benefit our customers. Sounds great, right?

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As inspired as I was to make people’s lives easier, though, the sheer magnitude of the task at hand felt overwhelming. Every morning, I cracked open my laptop to work and felt totally paralyzed. I loved the idea, yes, but actualizing it felt risky. What if it didn’t turn out the way I pictured in my mind? More importantly, where would I even begin?

A former colleague gave me great advice over coffee:

Change how you think. Start by breaking the big project down into small tasks.

When a major project overwhelms you, you only see the entire forest instead of the individual trees. And as you stare it down, you start to feel discouraged by your own lack of progress, thus slowing you down further.

Breaking down a massive task into smaller chunks makes the work feel more manageable. You’ll have multiple clear places to start and end with, which will lend a motivating sense of productivity and mastery to your process. Learn more about it here: The Motivation Flowchart: The Mental Process of Successful People

Think of it as accumulating small wins. When you realize you’re more capable than you have once thought, you’ll develop the momentum and confidence needed to get your big job done little by little.[2]

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2. Change Up Your Scenery

Of course, there’s a time and place for sitting down to get things done. But if you’re experiencing a mental block, switching up your surroundings can make a big difference in your output.

Have you ever noticed how your environment directly impacts your performance and mood?

Your brain associates your physical surroundings with certain feelings and activities. So, if you feel mentally stuck, your mind may need some new sensory stimuli.

During this time in your life, it may not be possible to set up shop at a cafe or move from your cubicle to a conference room, so you may need to think outside the box. If you’re working remotely in a home office, try going to your dining table or couch. If the weather cooperates, sit outside for a bit with your computer or take a walk around the block.

You can also simply rearrange your workspace. Not sure where to begin? Try decluttering. Some studies show that an organized desk enhances productivity.[3]

The point is to stimulate your brain with new sounds and sights. You may find a much-needed dose of inspiration when you work while breathing in the fresh air, listening to city sounds, or staying in the comfort of your own living space.

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3. Do an Unrelated Activity

When it comes to productivity, a bit of distraction isn’t always a bad thing. That’s especially true if your chosen distraction helps you get things done in the long run.

Have you realized how your most creative thoughts tend to bubble up when you’re, say, lying in bed or taking a shower? In their research of the “incubation period,” scientists have discovered that people’s best ideas seem to surface when they aren’t actively trying to solve a problem.[4]

In a 2010 study, participants needed to look for a roommate or new employee based on the profiles that the researchers gave. The people who had a brief “incubation period” — in this case, working on an anagram — consistently made better choices than those who spent more time weighing their options.

If you can’t seem to prime your brain for a project, try doing something completely unrelated to work, such as washing your dishes, working out, or calling a friend. Some experts say finding another low-stake project to work on can help jump-start the creative part of your brain and activate your flow.[5]

The key is to allow your unconscious mind to do its best work: eliciting the new knowledge your conscious mind may be ignoring or suppressing.[6]

4. Be Physical

Feeling antsy? When your mind won’t seem to settle into a state of flow, it may help to swap out your mental activity for a physical one and see how it impacts your perspective.

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While any physical activity is beneficial for your body — and getting up to move can serve as a helpful form of distraction — certain forms of exercise can more directly impact the mind. To be specific, relaxing, flow-based exercises like dance, yoga, or tai chi can create a gentle sense of momentum in your body, which can prime your brain for the same state.

Stress-reducing activities may also be necessary. Meditating or taking slow, deep breaths will also calm your nervous system if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Evidence shows that the logical, creative part of your brain essentially shuts off when you’re stressed.[7]

On the flip side, when your mind and body are relaxed, you can think more clearly, be more creative, and focus for longer periods — all of which will help you overcome a mental block.

5. Don’t Force It

It can be frustrating to fight against your own mind. If your mental block won’t go away after some effort, it may be time to take a break. Forcing creative thoughts only adds to your stress levels, which in turn inhibits your ability to think creatively. And if you sit and stare at a project for too long, you’ll not only waste valuable time but also begin to associate this specific work with frustration and produce work you’re not proud of.

“I know that forcing something is not going to create anything beyond mediocre, so I step aside and work on a different project until it hits me,” the artist Ben Skinner said about his creative process.[8]

If your work isn’t time-sensitive, then it may make sense to step away for a while to focus on something else, be it an administrative task that requires less creativity or a project that you feel motivated to work on.

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When the time is right, you’ll find your way back to the original task with a fresh, creative perspective (hopefully).

More on Getting Rid of a Mental Block

Featured photo credit: Jonas Leupe via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Aytekin Tank

Founder and CEO of JotForm, sharing entrepreneurship and productivity tips at Lifehack.

How To Set Employee Goals To Help Everyone Grow What Is Block Scheduling? (And How It Boosts Productivity) The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again How to Increase Attention Span If You Have a Distracted Mind 8 Surefire Problem-Solving Strategies That Always Work

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Published on August 3, 2021

5 Simple Steps to Creating a Productive Daily Schedule

5 Simple Steps to Creating a Productive Daily Schedule
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These days, it’s harder than ever to focus on your daily tasks and stay productive. There’s just too much going on around us. Between endless social media notifications, mountains of emails, and the latest must-watch content on countless streaming media services, staying focused isn’t easy. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to maintain a productive daily schedule.

You might be shocked to find out that there are some simple tricks you can use to take back control of your day and get everything done. It all begins with organization. If you plan out your days in the right way—taking distractions into account in advance—you can eliminate some of the unexpected diversions that rob you of productivity.

Of course, you’ve got to commit yourself to following a schedule every day. And if you aren’t willing or able to do that, you can stop reading right here.

But if you are willing to learn what it takes to build a productive daily schedule, you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to go over the five simple steps you can use to maximize your output, eliminate wasted time, and work at peak efficiency every day. If you’re ready to take back control of your day, let’s get started.

1. Discover Your Optimal Work Schedule

Before you can decide how to make the best possible use of your day, you need to understand how your physiology and personal work style play a role in your productivity.

For example, if you’re a morning person, it might be best for you to put your most important tasks right up front in your daily schedule. Conversely, it would be a disaster to leave those things for the end of the day.

But you can even go further than that.

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To discover your optimal work schedule, you must first collect some data. Start by tracking your work habits (whatever they currently are) for about two to three weeks. Make note of the times of the day when you get the most done, and log any external distractions that may be interfering in your work. The idea is to discover when you’re at your natural energy peak and filter out external factors working against you.

This accomplishes two things. First, it will help you to zero in on your most productive hours. Second, it will identify which distractions rob you of the most time. And once you know those two things, you will be in a much better position to build a schedule that maximizes your productivity.

2. Block Off Your Productive Time

After you’ve figured out what times of day are the most productive for you, the next step in creating your new schedule is to block off that time and reserve it for your most important work—and by blocking it off, I mean you have to arrange for those times to be distraction-free and preserved completely for working.

If that means you have to configure your Wi-Fi to shut off during those hours to keep from falling down the internet rabbit hole, so be it. If you have to set an auto-responder in your email to let everyone know they’ll have to wait for a response at a later date, do it. If you’ve got to turn to a time-locking app to prevent you from taking too many smartphone breaks, that’s fine, too.

In short, you need to create an environment where you can concentrate on the tasks at hand and see to it that you only have the tools you need to complete those tasks. Then, you can schedule your most important work each day into those time slots and you can be reasonably sure you’ll get all of it done.

If you think that’s extreme, let me assure you, it isn’t—and I can demonstrate why.

Just look at the repeated studies that indicate that the average worker is only productive for about three hours per day.[1] Now, go ahead and look back at your data from step one. I’d wager that you came up with average daily productivity that’s somewhere close to that number.

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If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be reading an article looking for the path to a more productive schedule. You’d be writing one, instead.

In any case, you should now understand why it’s so critical to jealously guard your most productive time in this way. By maximizing what you get done in those hours, you’re maximizing your total output. It’s that simple.

3. Schedule Appropriate Break Times

There is one thing—and one thing only—that you should allow to interrupt your most productive time: periodic breaks. As strange as it might sound, we tend to be most productive when we work in sprints. And even stranger, statistical analysis reveals that the ideal length of each work sprint is 52 minutes, followed by a 17-minute break.[2]

Yes, you read that right. And yes, this means you should allocate almost an hour of your standard 8-hour workday to doing non-work-related tasks. It will allow you to focus better during your work sprints and help you get more done. So, you don’t even have to feel guilty about it!

The best part is that this also holds during your less productive hours. That means you won’t be wasting the time before and after your peak productivity hours. And while you won’t be at peak efficiency, you’ll still get more done than you once did.

Before we move on, you might be wondering: isn’t this just the Pomodoro Technique by another name? The answer is—sort of.

That particular technique calls for working in shorter sprints—25 minutes, in fact—with even shorter breaks in between them. While it may boost productivity as well, it’s also quite difficult to build a schedule around. The reason for that is obvious: most peoples’ workdays include things like mandatory meetings and check-ins that last longer than 25 minutes (whether your schedule should include these is another matter we’ll get to momentarily). That means you’ll be trying to carve up your time in a way that can’t help but become inefficient.

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With a sprint time closer to a full hour, your options increase. You can cluster your 15-minute and half-hour meetings together to get them out of the way during one of your less productive hours and cluster your task-filled sprints together in your most productive periods. And once you get a handle on how long your average task length is, you’ll come to see why this works out well compared to the Pomodoro approach.

4. Schedule Availabilities in the Shortest Possible Windows

The trouble with what we’ve covered so far is that you won’t be working in a vacuum. That means co-workers, family members, and even phone scammers are going to do everything they can to interrupt your days and harm your productivity. They don’t mean to do it—except the phone scammers, of course—but the effect is the same either way.

To accommodate this, you’re going to have to schedule time in your day to deal with things like phone calls, face-to-face conversations, and email correspondence. But there are two tricks that can help you tame all of those time-draining tasks and keep them from overwhelming your day.

The first is to set aside specific times to handle such tasks and to let everyone around you know that you won’t be available at any other time. By doing this, you’re pre-empting many of the distractions that you’d otherwise have to deal with. If you warn others about your availability times in advance, you don’t have to feel bad about ignoring calls and emails as they come in—or sending them straight to voicemail or an auto-reply.

But none of that will stop people from making demands on your time, anyway. After all, you can’t eliminate every meeting from your schedule—even though there’s strong evidence to suggest you should try.[3] But what you can do is change the default conditions of those meeting requests.

To wit: if you have a calendar system where people can request meetings with you, try lowering the default meeting time in that system. This is possible in Google Calendar as well as in Microsoft Outlook, and likely other scheduling apps, too. Change your default to the shortest time that makes sense for your specific needs. For Elon Musk, this translates into 5-minute windows.[4] For the rest of us, something like ten or fifteen minutes should suffice.

The reason this works is that it forces people requesting your time to ask for more of it, instead of consuming it by default. And guess what? You’ll likely find that most people either won’t bother to ask or even notice that you’ve shortened your availability windows. That’s an instant time-saver for you.

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5. Avoid Multitasking at all Costs

Even though you may believe yourself to be an all-star multitasker, I have bad news for you—you’re not. Nobody is. Multiple studies have proven this again and again.[5] And the more you try to do it, the less efficient you’ll become. And you’re also likely to increase the number of errors you make in your work and have to waste even more time cleaning up your own mess.

From a daily scheduling perspective, the takeaway here is obvious. It’s that you should try to find a place in your schedule for every single necessary task you’re aware of, and try to avoid the temptation to squeeze unscheduled tasks into the mix. But you can do even better than that.

If you examine the reason that we humans are so bad at multitasking, you’ll find that it’s because our brains struggle to navigate switching between different types of tasks. This creates an effect that researchers call a switching cost, which means we unconsciously waste time fumbling to adapt to each new task. In other words, trying to complete two tasks at the same time will always take longer than doing them in succession.

You can use this knowledge to your advantage by scheduling similar tasks back-to-back in your individual work sprints. When you do, you’ll find that you’ll get more things done in each time window and waste much less time. When you add that time savings up over the course of a day, it’s a bigger deal than you think. Research indicates that switching costs rob us of up to 40% of our productivity, so reorganizing your task list in this way might almost double your productivity.[6]

Final Thoughts

If you’ve made it this far, then you should now know how to build yourself a daily schedule that maximizes your productivity. And if you can manage to stick to that schedule even as the world around you tries its best to get in your way, you’ll have a major advantage over your peers.

Just try not to gloat when you wrap up your work early and get back to your life while everyone else struggles to keep up. Instead, you should offer them your help with getting their schedules under control. They’ll be certain to appreciate some tips from an acknowledged expert.

More Tips on Daily Planning

Featured photo credit: Eric Rothermel via unsplash.com

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Reference

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